Celtic's breakthrough player of 2021
As we reflect on the 2021 breakthrough talent at Celtic Park, it would be harsh to reflect on anyone other than centre-back Stephen Welsh.
Handed his first-team debut by Neil Lennon at the tail-end of 2020, Welsh showed some promising attributes. Strong in the challenge and dominant in the air – Celtic clearly had a prospect here. Not to mention it was clear that Stephen was comfortable enough playing out from the back too.
But whilst his first opportunity with the senior side came last year, it’s been in 2021 in which he’s made more of a name for himself.
There was nothing to celebrate for Celtic in the second half of last season. For Welsh personally, however, it was the period in which he became a first-team regular after graduating from the youth academy.
Indeed, taking advantage of Christopher Jullien’s knee injury, Welsh was a constant in the second half of last season. He played in 15 of our 19 league games in that time, also featuring in both of our Scottish Cup matches.
There were real question marks over Welsh’s ability to maintain his performance levels. It’s fair to say there were concerns in his ability to step up in bigger games against the likes of Rangers for example. But Welsh kept his place in the Celtic starting XI under both Lennon and latterly John Kennedy.
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Stephen Welsh continues to be trusted by new boss Ange Postecoglou
Of course, it wasn’t necessarily difficult to look competent enough in that Celtic team of last season. For large spells it must’ve felt like the pressure was off Welsh given how the rest of the team was underperforming.
But this year, he’s continued to impress after making a real impression on Ange Postecoglou. Ange has continued to provide Welsh with regular opportunities, with the Lennoxtown academy product featuring on 18 occasions this term [Transfermarkt]. This has included outings against the likes of Rangers, Bayer Leverkusen, and Real Betis to name but a few.
Welsh hasn’t been a first-choice pick of course. It’s clear Postecoglou will consistently go with Carl Starfelt and Cameron Carter-Vickers when everyone is fit. But Welsh has continued to keep himself in the mix and has become one of the more recognised members of the first-team squad.
In total, the defender has racked up 35 appearances in all competitions in 2021 alone. When it comes to impactful youth academy players, he’s been the absolute standout.
Of course there are plenty of improvements he could make to his game. That’s undeniable. But under Ange he certainly has the right mentor moving forward.
Here’s hoping Welsh has just as successful a 2022 as he did 2021. Bagging the league championship wouldn’t be a bad way to start.